Employers in West Michigan have recovered relatively well from the depths of the economic hit from the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting restrictions, according to economic development organization The Right Place Inc.
Eight in 10 of the 118 companies that The Right Place staff visited during June reported increasing sales, and nearly all employers said sales were stable. Six in 10 companies said they planned to expand through capital investments and hiring additional staff over the next year or more, although talent recruitment and retention remains a key challenge.
The conversations found optimism among employers large and small across Kent, Newaygo, Oceana, Ionia, Montcalm and Lake counties.
“Through these meetings with regional business leaders, we’ve found an optimistic business community that is expecting strong growth in the second half of 2021,” The Right Place CEO Randy Thelen said in a statement.
More than 90 percent of the companies said the region’s competitiveness “is good or very good,” said Eric Icard, senior director of business development at The Right Place.
“I think that’s a strong message as well,” Icard said.
Employers said talent and supply chain issues are by far the largest ongoing challenges, Icard said. More than half of the employers reported challenges in recruiting, and more than one-third said they were increasing their investments in employee training.
Issues with talent recruiting and retention, along with bottlenecked supply chains, came as no surprise in staff visits with employers during June, Icard said. Both issues are pervasive in every economic sector and the U.S. economy right now.
“We’ve been hearing this all year,” Icard said. “Across the board, it’s all the same message — supply chain and talent.”
Many employers told The Right Place that they are investing more in automation because of the tight labor market, Icard said. The economic development organization has been increasingly referring companies for an automation assessment offered by the Michigan Manufacturing Technology Center.
“Because of the challenge with finding people, a lot of companies are looking to see how they can invest in automation and educate their talent that they have into putting them into more challenging and better-paying positions,” he said.